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Tue, Mar 12, 2013
The Sunday Times
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Go bare on Baker
by Huang HuiFen

Who: Ms Jo Soh, 37, owner and designer of 10-year-old home-grown fashion label Hansel, which has a retail shop at Mandarin Gallery.

Favourite city: San Francisco

Why: It has a very diverse and open culture and society, such as the general acceptance of nudity in public. In the neighbourhood of Castro, there are people sitting completely naked having coffee by the street. There are also clothing-optional beaches, such as parts of Baker Beach. I also love the fact that it is a city by the sea.

Best accommodation

My boyfriend (headhunter Norman Leung, 41) and I stayed with an old artist couple, Ms Toby Klayman and Mr Joseph Branchcomb, in their studio/ gallery/home in Bernal Heights. We found them through Airbnb ( and paid only S$100 a night for a room in a cabin in the garden.

The whole house is adorned with their art works, which are for sale and range from crockery to paintings. The couple, in their 70s, are fascinating characters. They grew up in the 1940s and have so many stories to share over coffee and fresh bread every day to interest a vintage lover such as myself.

We grew so close to them that they treated us like their own grandchildren. I bought two plates and a painting from Toby at the end of the stay.

Best vintage shops

I found amazing vintage clothes at the numerous boutiques along Haight Street. I am a big fashion history buff and love to collect vintage clothes as their designs reflect a certain cultural norm from long ago. They also serve as my design inspirations.

The boutiques carry high-quality pieces dating back to the Victorian era, and are considered a real deal at prices from US$100 (S$125) to US$200. Some of them can even be museum pieces. Decades of Fashion (1653 Haight Street, tel: +1-415-551-1653, was the most impressive in terms of its depth of selections from the 1800s to 1980s.

I also liked smaller boutiques such as Relic Vintage (1605 Haight Street, tel: +1-415-255-7460,, which stocks apparel and accessories from the 1920s to 1980s. Ironically, I went to Haight Street twice but did not buy anything as I had a hard time deciding what to buy.

Best shop for art lovers

I bought prints designed by American artists and illustrators at Super7 Store (1427 Haight Street, tel: +1-415-553-6155,, a designer toy and apparel company, for about US$50.

Favourite brunch spot

We visited The Liberty Cafe (410 Cortland Avenue, tel: +1-415-695-8777, almost every day. It is walking distance from Toby and Joseph's home and serves good burgers such as the black Angus burger (US$14). Favourite restaurant

Anchor Oyster Bar (579 Castro Street, tel: +1-415-431-3990, is a small, cosy seafood restaurant. What was fun about the place was that while queuing for a table outside the restaurant, we were served bite-sized morsels of their main dishes so we would not get too hungry.

I would definitely recommend the oysters and the oysters shooter (US$3.50). A half-order of oysters, steamed clams and chilled prawns cost about US$39.

Favourite speakeasy

My friend, glass artist Ivan Mora, recommended that we check out Bourbon and Branch (501 Jones Street, tel: +1-415-346-1735, Mora designed the chandeliers for the bar. It occupies a former speakeasy that operated from 1921 to 1933, and the decor and ambience of the Prohibition era have been retained, from the inconspicuous entrance to the hostess with a 1920s bob who asks you for a password to enter. The password is given when you make a reservation. Inside, a row of shelves gives way to another bar deeper inside. Drinks cost around US$12.

Best travel mobile app

I used the TripAdvisor app (www.tripadvisor. to find good restaurants. Most of the restaurants I visited were recommendations from the app. When I was in the Little Italy area, for instance, the app led me to Vicoletto (550 Green Street, tel: +1-415-433-5800,, which serves fantastic burrata (US$18). The best part about the app is that it can be used offline as well.

Favourite neighbourhood

I like The Mission because it is a neighbourhood of contrasts. There are some parts that are quite dodgy. When we were there, we saw a poster offering a reward for information on a murder.

But cross over to the next street and you get a cheerier scene of cool little cafes, with some selling homemade ice cream. The ugly and the pretty remind me of my time in London, when I was studying fashion design and marketing at Central St Martins. I felt that I was in a big city again.

Some places to check out in The Mission include Boogaloos (3296 22nd Street, tel: +1-415-824-4088,, a brunch spot decked with fun and arty interiors. A basic breakfast of eggs, homefries and toast costs US$7.

I like the salted caramel ice cream (US$3.50) from the famed Bi-Rite Creamery (3692 18th Street, tel: +1-415-626-5600, It is a great way to refuel after a long walk.

Events to bookmark

There were many events happening when we were there in October. For aeronautics fans, there is the San Francisco Fleet Week (, an airshow with demonstrations by the US Navy aerobatic flight exhibition team Blue Angels and other show pilots.

Fleet Week is also a good time to stroll along the waterfront to the Golden Gate Bridge. We took a four- to five-hour leisure walk from Fort Mason to Crissy Field and up on the Bridge, all the while thrilled by sights such as a sailing regatta at the San Francisco Bay and people picnicking on the beach.

Music lovers can check out the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival (, a three-day free concert held at the Golden Gate Park.

Art aficionados should go on a self-guided tour of numerous artists' studios during the annual San Francisco Open Studios (

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